Unhealthy Relationship Behaviors
You deserve to feel safe in your relationship. Emotional, verbal, or physical abuse is not your fault. The presence of some devastating relationship behaviors can make couples get divorced. Abusive criticism, contempt, or stonewalling are some key issues that can threaten a relationship. Here’s how to recognize the signs of these behaviors.
Anniversaries, birthdays, and Valentine’s Day are days filled with roses, chocolates, and romance. But those occasions are fleeting, and relationships demand year-round care. Therapist and marriage expert John Gottman has studied relationships for decades, and he can seemingly predict divorce for couples with near-total accuracy, even those who otherwise seem happy. How? According to Gottman, it all stems from a few devastating behaviors. Give yourself and your partner the gift of a better relationship by learning about these four indicators of poor relationship health, and understanding how to get them under control so you can enjoy a more satisfying partnership.
Everyone has to give their partner feedback sometimes: “When you talk to me that way, it hurts my feelings.” “I need you to share equally in parenting and household labor.” “I don’t feel safe when you text and drive.” These criticisms are reasonable. But often, criticism becomes a power play. A person begins attacking their partner’s character by calling them sensitive, hysterical, or dishonest. They insult their appearance or fundamental characteristics. Or they spend so much time criticizing their partner that there’s no time or energy for anything else. Perhaps worst of all, they might engage in name-calling—using gendered slurs like “bitch,” calling a partner dumb or lazy, or telling them they’re a bad parent. Criticism can be abusive, and in many relationships, a person pretends they’re offering constructive feedback when what they’re really doing is slowly and steadily eroding their partner’s sense of self.
Even when criticism is reasonable and positive, Gottman suggests a person needs as many as 20 pieces of positive feedback to be able to accept one negative bit. But when criticism is mean-spirited, involves calling names, or fundamentally undermines a loved one’s character, no amount of praise can compensate for it. Instead, make an effort to identify good things you see your partner do, the things you love about them, and the things that make you proud, and then watch your relationship transform.
We all get angry sometimes, but contempt is a darker form of anger. It’s the type of anger that fundamentally dismisses a partner’s needs and humanity. Eye-rolling is an example of contempt. It conveys clearly, “I don’t just disagree with you. I think you’re unworthy of listening to.” Some other examples of contempt include:
- Mocking someone for their emotions.
- Refusing to offer comfort to a crying or otherwise suffering spouse.
- Deliberately ignoring or mocking a partner’s needs.
- Undermining a partner.
- Publicly humiliating a partner, whether deliberately or accidentally.
Contempt is the opposite of love. And while contemptuous behaviors may occasionally leak through even in loving relationships, contempt as a pattern destroys love. Contempt from one partner often breeds contempt from the other. So if you feel like your partner isn’t loving with you, consider the extent to which you might be unloving with them.
We all feel defensive sometimes. And occasionally, your partner might lob a criticism that’s just fundamentally unfair. But if you rarely accept any criticism and are more concerned with telling your partner they are wrong or defending yourself, then you’re being defensive.
Defensiveness destroys the ability to fix problems in relationships. That’s because if the problem is real to your partner, then it’s real—no matter how you feel about it. Defensive people systematically disregard the needs of their partners.
Some signs you’re consistently defensive include:
- You think your partner is excessively sensitive or overreacts.
- You think that doing good things for your partner should mean you do not have to make changes.
- You spend most of your time telling your partner why they are wrong in their assessment of what you are doing wrong.
- You rarely apologize.
- You think most of the problems in your relationship are your partner’s fault.
Some strategies to avoid defensiveness include:
- Learn how to earnestly apologize. There should be no “ifs” in a good apology; it should instead focus on what you intend to do better next time, as well as demonstrate an honest understanding of how your behavior has affected your partner.
- Listen to your partner with an open mind. Assume they are the expert on their own life and needs.
- Take your partner’s needs seriously, even if they are different from yours.
- Consider honoring everything your partner says for a week or two, without defending yourself or arguing. See how this affects your relationship.
- Understand that defensiveness can initiate a negative pattern in which your partner stops asking you to make changes, becomes contemptuous, and displays anger and hostility.
It is time to start living your best life. A divorce and family law attorney from Sinatra Legal will provide legal advice and assist you in effectively closing this chapter of your life. Hire the best when it matters the most. Call us today at 561.430.4121 and join our Facebook here.